The Boardgaming Life

Umpiring the Empire-TheBoardGamingLife Player Aid for Le Vol De L’Aigle

 

by Harvey Mossman

Approximately one year ago I umpired a game of Flight of the Eagle over the Internet.  It was a very interesting experience, both for me as the umpire and for the players who had to deal with true fog of war and 19th-century limitations on communications.  You can peruse my game review and a follow-up article which is a narrative of the campaign.  But I will dedicate this article to the lessons learned being an umpire for Flight of the Eagle.

First let me explain how we managed to do this over the Internet.  We had 18 participants playing the 1806 French invasion of Prussia.  They were assigned to the historical personel at all levels of command – Army commanders, corps commanders and divisional generals.  Although many members were players in our local wargaming group, others resided out-of-state.  Each player pledged not to reveal his historical persona to anyone else.  I strictly enforced this and enhanced their hesitation about revelations by telling them that they may be unwittingly giving information to the enemy since they did not know who was playing which side.  This was extremely important as I wanted no communication outside the realm of the game where written messages and historical time delays added an element of friction the players were ill-prepared for.  All email messages were sent to me and then redistributed based on the game clock time parameters.

So for example, if Marshall Ney sent a message to Marshall Soult at 1000 and the distance between the generals was approximately 20 miles, I would delay retransmitting the message to Marshal Soult until the game clock reached 1200.  Fortunately the clerical end of this could easily be accomplished by cutting and pasting the message to the email address of Marshall Soult.

I provided each player with an order template so that the essential information I needed to adjudicate moves and enemy contacts would be included with their email.  Without a template, players tend to ramble in their messages and not provide clear information as to their intent.  That would require me to email them for clarifications which greatly added to my workload and delayed the game unnecessarily.  Therefore, I developed the template below for email messages and orders.

Order Template

Sender:

Time Sent:

Recipient:

Time Received: (this was filled in by me)

Unit Marching:

Route of March:

Time Spent Marching:

Expected Objective:

Rules of Engagement:

Dispatches:

The template included the name of the sender and the time it was sent followed by the name of the recipient.  If it was a simple message to another player, the body of the text would follow in the Dispatches section.  If it was an Order, they were required to include which unit was marching, what specific route they were taking, how long they planned to march for the day, their planned objective at the end of the march, and the rules of engagement should they contact the enemy.

Obviously it was important to know the name of the Sender and the intended Recipient but the time the message was sent was extremely important.  For those of you who know the game, historical time delays are built-in as messengers are sent out through the road network traveling by horse at historical pace.  This all had to be accounted for as the game provides that Messengers travel approximately 10 mph over roads.  I had to calculate the time delay before the receiver would have the message in in hand and I put the message in a saved email queue that was timestamped  to be sent when the appropriate time occurred on the game clock.  The game system provides for possible occurrences along as the messengers travel which could further cause further delays.  Once all of this was calculated, I would fill in the Time Received section and the message would be queued.

The Route of March needed to be extremely specific since I would be moving units on a virtual game board provided with Flight of the Eagle (more on that later).  In essence, the Corps commanders would give me marching orders for their divisional commanders and I would execute them based on what was sent.  There were times that messages were not clearly crafted nor the intent of the Corps commander made clear, resulting in some movements of the divisions that were unexpected.  As Napoleon once said, “an order that could be misinterpreted will be misinterpreted!”  and indeed this happened several times throughout the game sometimes with the most astounding consequences.  (You will have to read my narrative on how the campaign progressed to appreciate this.  The link is at the end of this article.)

The Time Spent Marching was important as it directly relates to how much fatigue a unit accumulates as the campaign unfolds.  Tired units end up becoming more brittle and less combat effective so the players had to consider the conditions of their units as they moved.  There was no unrealistic force marching without significant consequences as often is found in cardboard wargames.  I used a simple Excel spreadsheet to calculate combat effectiveness as a measure of accumulated fatigue.

Inclusion of the Expected Objective was helpful in clarifying a commander’s intent especially when his Route of March orders and Time of March were ambiguously delineated.  Once again, this just saved time so that I did not have to request order clarifications from the commander.

Similarly, the Rules of Engagement help speed the game along.  Remember, as umpire, I was moving divisions based on the orders of the Corps commanders.  Units would come in contact and skirmishes or wholesale battles might ensue before timely reports could get back to the Corps commander.  In this way I would act as a division commander until the Corps commander received word and sent his orders.  Once again, 19th-century communications were not instantaneous and this communication/command cycle both tantalized and frustrated the players.

So, a word to the wise….  Use this template or some other of your own making to make sure that players’ messages and orders contain the information you, as an umpire, require to make appropriate movements, fatigue calculations and combat losses.  Without a template, you will simply get messages needing clarification thereby inhibiting the flow of the game.

There is one other important thing about orders and messages.  You must establish firm time limits for players to submit these to you.  Our game had 18 players each submitting multiple messages often every hour in game clock terms.  As an umpire, this message  deluge needs to be controlled.  This game requires a lot of work on the umpire’s part and if he is not organized and committed it will simply fall apart.  Therefore anything you can do to ease your task is of utmost importance.  Often in our game, individual players did not submit timely orders.  There were all kinds of excuses, but simply put, it was not fair to the players who did adhere to time constraints.  Therefore, be firm with your players and make sure they submit their orders and messages within the time limits you set.  Otherwise, other players will get frustrated and the game will be held up by one tardy general.

Now you may ask how I kept track of unit and messenger movements?  That was perhaps the simplest aspect of umpiring.  The publisher provides historical maps for each campaign which I simply scanned into my computer and imported into graphics programs such as Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro.  I then created small rectangular labeled objects as different “layers” to represent the units.  I could simply click on each unit’s layer and move it over the historical map to its new position as orders were executed.  This worked beautifully as it looked much like the battlefield and campaign maps that we see in Napoleonic historical atlases.  Without this process, I would have much less hair on my head than I do now (which is not much!)

These also facilitated divisional reports back to the Corps commanders since I could simply outline an area of the map containing a particular Corps commander’s units, cut and paste it in an email , and he would have a situational report as to the whereabouts of his units and the enemy  without revealing the whole campaign board.  Initially I tried to issue verbal reports describing the divisional situations but it required a Herculean effort and the “mini maps” solved this nicely.

Finally I created a simple Excel spreadsheet that facilitated the tracking of unit fatigue, Morale  and combat losses which directly effects a unit’s Effective Combat strength.  Essentially you just enter the units Fatigue in the Fatigue Column and its Combat Effective strength is calculated.  The same goes for Morale and Combat losses.  In this campaign there were some hybrid units of Infantry and Cavalry so the spreadsheet distributes losses between the two combat arms proportionally.  Feel free to tinker with it as I am sure there are others out there with far more Excel experience than I. (Damn it I’m a Doctor Jim, not a mathematician!)

NapoleonCampaign1806Spreadsheet

In summary, umpiring a campaign in The Flight of the Eagle utilizing email worked very nicely once I arrived at these time-saving measures.  Without them, I would’ve been severely overburdened, not by the game system in itself mind you, but by the sheer volume of messages being transmitted through me.  I may have brought some extra work on myself as I ambitiously recruited 18 players.  There were 2 Army commanders, many Corps commanders and a few other players assigned to divisional commands on each side.  I would recommend you assign players no further down the chain of command than Corps commanders as the divisional commanders add an exponentially increased number of bidirectional messages and emails which can quickly overwhelm the umpire.

The game system is relatively easy to implement and we picked one of the simpler campaigns as our first attempt to do this.  Unanimously, the players all enjoyed the campaign even though it took almost a year to complete.  Nevertheless, players gained true historical insight regarding the frustrating limitations of 19th century warfare.  Command control was extremely limited due to the distances involved and the inevitable delays messages took to reach their recipients.  This meant that commanders were often operating in a vacuum and had to solely rely on their own initiative to resolve desperate situations.  They simply could not wait for a higher echelon commander to advise them on how they should act.  Some players really floundered without this higher-level guidance.  Yet other players excelled.  It is rare for a game to so accurately depict the true fog of war and, as hex and counter gamers, we do not realize the advantages accrued with all the information that is available to us while playing.  We like to think that we are getting somewhat of a historical experience, but in reality, we are deliriously deluding ourselves.  All of the players in this campaign realized that early on and struggled through the fog each to their own honor, glory or shame.  They all greatly enjoyed Flight of the Eagle and we plan to do another campaign soon.

If anyone else wants to do a campaign, I would like to hear their experience.  If anyone wants advice as an umpire, please feel free to contact me.

Other recommended articles in the series include:

Le Vol de L’Aigle (The Flight of the Eagle) Volume 3: A Board Game Review

Le Vol de L’Aigle – A Board Gaming Life After Action Report

 

About the Author

Harvey Mossman has been playing wargames since the age of 13.  While earning his degree in Medicine,  he continued to write historical articles, lecture on military history, design wargames and amass a truly staggering collection of conflict simulations.  He is one of the editors of TheBoardgamingLife website and runs an annual wargaming convention on Long Island New York on the Friday after Thanksgiving affectionately known as FaTDoG (Friday After Thanksgiving Day of Gaming).  He is also a regular contributor to Grognard.com, a renowned wargaming website.